New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
After the First World War all medical and surgical equipment used by 1 NZEF was forwarded to New Zealand, and surplus equipment was sold. The three medical training depots were issued with all that the instructors required for training purposes, and an amount sufficient to equip all medical units of a division was kept in a medical store at Trentham. These stores were set up in complete groups ready for immediate issue to RAPs (Regimental Aid Posts) and field ambulances if required.
Each military area throughout the country was issued with one pair of medical panniers, one medical companion, and one surgical haversack for use by RMOs at local camps of instruction. These were replenished on indent from the medical store at Trentham, and up to the depression necessary medical supplies were purchased from local drug importers, thus maintaining the divisional equipment complete.
During the depression years and the years following, however, no replacements were made to existing stocks and consequently the divisional equipment was drawn on to supply territorial camps, permanent staff depots, and army training schools.page 8
As the DGMS reported to the Adjutant-General in March 1935: The position and condition of medical equipment is unsatisfactory from every point of view. This is due partly to the depression of the past four years and the consequent tightening of the purse strings, with the result that both additions and replacements have been reduced to a very bare minimum. Another factor is that since Major Gibbs, NZAMC, was retired in 1931, only casual and spasmodic examination of medical stores has been made owing to the fact that his duties were not taken over by any officer or NCO.
The result was that in September 1938, when the whole world became alarmed at the aggressive attitude of Germany, the army medical equipment was in a poor state. It had been realised for some years that the reserve of medical equipment necessary for a division was not only out-of-date but largely useless. The medical and surgical panniers, some dating from 1912, were borer-infested, and in most cases half-emptied of their contents, and other stocks were in a similar condition. It may be added that equipment for other divisional units was in a similar state.
The DMS on his visit to Australia and the United Kingdom had seen new medical equipment being produced, and on his return instructions were issued for a full inquiry and report on all medical equipment. On representations made by the Director of Medical Services, Major Gibbs was recalled to Wellington in February 1939 to investigate and report on medical equipment and stores. As a result, medical equipment estimated to cost £2468 was ordered from England in March 1939. This began to arrive just as war was declared.
Panniers of a new pattern had been ordered, it being planned that they could be filled from existing stocks of drugs and dressings in which there had been little change. During 1939, however, many big camps were held, and when the empty panniers arrived from England practically all military medical stores had been exhausted. In due course some of the panniers were made up at local drug merchants while others were sent to Australia and returned to New Zealand complete. If the war had come to the shores of this country shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, the army would have been badly handicapped by a lack of medical supplies. As it happened, it was fortunate that the medical units of 2 NZEF proceeding overseas were able to be equipped after their arrival at their destination. As it was, some of the medical stores supplied for use on transports were so old as to be useless, as, for example, plaster bandages provided for ships' hospitals on Second Echelon troopships.